Aimlessly Going Forward

blog by Tomas Sedovic

Become an Effective Software Engineering Manager by James Stanier

book, review

This review was originally posted at Goodreads and imported here later with next to no spell/grammar checking.

5/5 stars

I’ve learned of this book about a month before I’ve switched careers from a software engineer to an engineering manager. I’m extremely grateful that I did.

This is a book aimed at that exact audience: a developer who’s thinking of becoming a manager or has just made the switch. It is a book absolutely packed with clear practical advice on a tonne of topics that a manager of software engineers will deal with.

The change happened quite abruptly in my case and I didn’t have a lot of time to wrap up my engineering work and prepare for this new role. This book has served as a really useful guidance.

For a concrete example, I’ve read the chapter on running effective one-to-ones with your reports a week before I’ve had my first one. And it turned me from "so um.. how do I do this? What do we even talk about?" to having a solid foundation to build on.

It didn’t cure the feelings of awkwardness and uncertainty, but it gave me a wide overview of what to expect to be dealing with in this new job and provided really solid tools and suggestions.

The book covers topics such as communication, one-to-ones, getting oneself organised, salary, hiring, performance and development, diversity, people leaving, building your team and influence, delegating, promotions, dealing with changes, failures, your own wellbeing and its importance, mentoring, remote working, culture, startups, pressure from the above and work-life balance.

I have found all the advice really sensible, ready for the taking and adjusting to my own particular circumstances and importantly, humane. The book enthusiastically advises against being the task-giver with a whip in one hand and metrics in the other, working your people and yourself into death.

Instead, it acknowledges that we’re all human. With good days and bad. And it advocates approaches that help build relationships and solve problems.

It does not replace having mentors or talking anything you’re facing through with your peers. But it does stress the importance of both and helps you build that network.

It’s also missing a chapter on dealing with a pandemic, countries in turmoil and bereavement — all extremely timely issues in these ridiculous fucking times.

But I have honestly found it so much more useful and important than I expected. I can’t tell if it’s made me a better manager. It’s probably too early to tell anyway and I’m the most biased person to make that observation. But I felt more prepared and confident that I can deal with these new challenges thanks to it.

I wish the book existed two years ago when I first considered the role change.

It is a great book for curious engineers to read: either those thinking about people management or the ones who would like to know what exactly is it their manager actually does.

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